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Poem: "This Hazardous Business" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "This Hazardous Business"
This poem is spillover from the July 4, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It also fills the "secret allies" square in my 6-16-17 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It touches on passing, bisexuality, multiracial heritage, activism, homophobia, transphobia, mistaken identity, prejudice against people with superpowers, a cat girl, prostitution, a dog boy, homelessness, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"This Hazardous Business"


Some folks have passing privilege,
and some of those want it,
and some of those don't.

Rich Longstreet has it,
if he keeps his mouth shut about
loving men as well as women.

Even with his mocha skin,
people don't always think "black" --
his heritage is mixed enough that
it could be anything equatorial.

He's quiet, for the most part.

Knowing himself, he understands
this hazardous business of passing:
how a lie may be your ally, but
it will never be your friend.

He glides through life without
making too many ripples, which
is a good thing for a supervillain
who isn't into cape fights.

The Quartermaster can't afford
to attract the wrong kind of attention.

But he needs to be seen.
He needs to be known as
bisexual, as black, as himself.

So he goes to the rallies and
the marches, makes a scene where
it won't cause too much trouble, and --
because he works for Kraken --
keeps an eye out for others.




Some folks lack passing privilege,
and some of those want it,
and some of those don't.

The gay men with frilly tastes
and the tough dykes are easy
to pick out of a crowd.

Unfortunately so are
the straight men with soft faces
and the handsome het women,
no matter how hard they protest.

There are the transfolk whose bodies
never quite make it all the way
over the gender fence.

Disaffected teens slouch by
in a cloud of smoke, wild hairdos
waving like warning colors.

Some of that is natural.
Some of it is not.

It isn't always easy
to distinguish the two.

Rich watches them all,
and drops a word here,
a hint there, helping them
make the connections
that they need.

He's the Quartermaster;
it's what he does.


Some folks cannot pass at all,
and some of those want it,
and some of those don't.

Most superpowers don't even show
unless someone starts showing off --
Rich's telekinesis is no more visible
than his bisexuality, unless he uses it,
or is wearing a t-shirt to advertise it.

Not everyone is this lucky.

Not the sassy cat girl he sees
hustling Japanese men who
pay extra to pet her ears and tail.

Not the dejected dog boy he finds
slouched in the stairwell of a tenement,
scrounging what he can to get by.

They might be tolerated,
but never really welcomed,
the ones who look different but
don't have any special powers.

Rich understands this breaking away
from all that was familiar and friendly to take
one’s chances in another environment,
not entirely strange, perhaps, but
certainly not entirely friendly.

He knows what it's like
to feel out of place, never
fitting in anywhere.

He also knows that
there are places where
anyone can fit in.

So he passes the word
back up the chain of command,
and Kraken will send someone
to look in on the outcasts who
can't even pass for human.

If they're a good match,
they'll get an invitation; and
if not, they'll get nudged toward
whatever services suit them better.

Rich knows the risks in
this hazardous business
of passing and passing word,
and he manages it as deftly as
fitting containers into place
within his warehouse.

They're worth the risk.

* * *

Notes:

(Character by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth)
The Quartermaster (Richmond "Rich" Longstreet): He has mocha skin with a shaved head; he had nappy hair which was a pain to keep in good shape between the pitch and the pool, and now he's nearly bald. He is 195 centimeters tall and weighs 105 kilograms. He keeps in good shape.
Rich is the third of five children, born and grew up in Atlanta. Dad was a dining car cook for the Southern Line until passenger service was curtailed in the late 1950s. When Dad was let go, he opened a soul food restaurant ("I done got tired of cookin' white folks' food for white folks."). Mom stayed at home and raised the kids. Family was active in the local (AME) church.
Rich joined the Army out of high school in 1976, wanting to get away from the South (the Army still had its own problems, though) and get GI Bill money for college. Assigned to Quartermaster Corps, he found that he liked the work. After his hitch, he decided to try and set up in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of his mates when Rich was stationed at the Oakland Army Base mentioned he could put in a good word with the Longshoremen. Rich got a job at the Port of Oakland and worked through two years of community college before transferring to UC Berkeley as a junior. After graduating, one of his frat buddies (Alpha Phi Alpha) pointed him at a warehouse supervisory job in San Francisco. He's still there.
Bisexual, Rich first experienced attraction to males while in the Army, and stayed closeted through his hitch and college. He came out and became active in the LGBT community a couple of years out of school. Not in any long-term relationship, he hasn't had one that's lasted more than about a year.
Rich makes a point of participating in as many public and outreach events as he can. He'd much rather play sports than watch them -- intercollegiate water polo (center back) and club rugby (flanker) at Cal. He played a fair amount of pickup rugby after college, and is helping coach a women's rugby team right now.
The warehouse where Rich works belongs to the Kraken logistics division, operated by a Kraken-controlled shipping company, hidden by the usual layers of ownership. His frat buddy was a Kraken talent scout who thought that Rich could work out well. The warehouse mostly handles items from legitimate Kraken operations, but occasional items that need to be moved quietly also pass through. Rich is currently the warehouse manager there. He has also held various offices in the ILWU Warehouse Division, and is currently representing the ILWU in their joint negotiation of the Northern California Warehouse Master Contract with the Teamsters.
Origin: Rich was a shipping manager in the fall of 1989. He was in his office, taking care of some extra items because a good chunk of his crew had left early to go to World Series Game 3 or meet up with friends to watch, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake collapsed one of the unreinforced masonry walls of the warehouse on him before he could take cover. This activated his latent Telekinesis, and Rich unknowingly diverted almost all of the falling brick from burying him completely. Crawling out of the rubble, mostly unhurt but badly scraped and with a knock or two, he started digging through the fallen walls to try and quickly uncover any of his crew who had gotten buried. Soon understanding his newly manifested powers, he unpacked much of the debris without success. Reporting his new powers to his boss at the warehouse got him opportunities to be part of logistics teams for Kraken operations, where his telekinetic abilities can substitute silently for many things that would otherwise require noisy machinery.
Qualities: Expert [+4] Discipline, Good [+2] Teamwork, Good [+2] Contact Sports, Good [+2] Athlete
Poor [-2] Erasure Target (race and sexuality)
Motivation: To be an inevitably visible part of his community.

Nashley Ackles -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and chestnut hair. As a tween, she escaped from child abuse by running away from home. Soon she became a prostitute to support herself. Unlike most girls, she actually has a head for business and has done rather well for herself financially -- especially after she turned into a cat girl and started hustling Japanese men. But she's still a lonely teenage girl inside.
Origin: She experimented with street drugs for vaginal enhancement. They had unanticipated side effects, leaving her with superpowers.
Uniform: Nashley dresses in clothes that advertise her body, especially anything skin-tight.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Big Boobs, Good (+2) Money Handling, Good (+2) Prostitute
Poor (-2) Lonely
Powers: Average (0) Cat Girl
Motivation: Money.

Ruff (Donathan Naumann) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and shaggy dark brown hair. He has a dog's muzzle and nose in an otherwise human face. His hands end in claws, and so do his elongated toes. He spent a while in foster care, but after his dog traits developed, nobody wanted him anymore.
Origin: He grew up in a poor neighborhood contaminated by unknown zetetic substances. His canine features began manifesting at puberty.
Uniform: Boy's street clothes, usually in dark colors. He wears whatever he can scrounge.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bookworm, Good (+2) Keeping Secrets, Good (+2) Tall
Poor (+2) Homeless
Powers: Poor (-2) Dog Traits
Motivation: Survival

* * *

“She wished to find out about this hazardous business of passing, this breaking away from all that was familiar and friendly to take one’s chances in another environment, not entirely strange, perhaps, but certainly not entirely friendly.”
-- Nella Larson, Passing

Passing is when other people take someone for a member of a group to which that person does not actually belong. Passing privilege is the theory that a disadvantaged person mistaken for an advantaged person will derive benefits from this misconception. However, people who are actually mistaking for something else say that this is not true, and it causes other problems such as imposter syndrome. This is a serious issue in Terramagne because soups are not always accepted, and many superpowers are not always visible.

Bisexuality is an erotic attraction to both men and women. Bisexuals often pass as straight or gay depending on the sex of their current partner. They are welcome almost nowhere.

The Quartermaster's has this cute Bi-gfoot T-shirt.

Multiracial people have ancestors of several different ethnicities. Because of this, some of them pass for white -- or at least not black.

The Quartermaster wears this black bean soup can T-shirt, which subtly advertises both his race and his superpowers.

Cat girls are a type of minimally modified humanoid on the spectrum of anthropomorphism.

Dog boys are a similar type with canine instead of feline features. While soups of any sex may have any type of animal feature, depictions lean toward the "female feline, male mutt" pattern. (Shiv and Lawrence are both very strong feline personalities, even though they don't have physical cat features. Doghouse is a girl who can shapeshift into canine form. So I'm not following the pattern completely, but it's worth mentioning.)

Japanese men have a fascination with cat girls, among a variety of other dramatic fetishes. Cat girls are among the few soups widely tolerated in Japan. They are not exactly respected, but they are adored, and it is easy for them to make a lot of money as prostitutes or actresses. They are called nekomimi or "cat ears," distinct from the shapeshifting neko-mosume ("cat girl"). The term bakeneko ("demon cat") is usually reserved for supervillains with felinoid traits or cat people with strongly bestial features.

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